Dalton: HD19 GOP Primary has Intrigue for Northwest Indiana Voters

Steve Dalton’s popular blog Northwest Indiana Politics is read by many politicos statewide.

House District 19: The Republican primary pits former Mayor of Crown Point Dan Klein against Fran Katz, chief operating officer of the American Society of Agronomy.  

Republicans believe this seat to be particularly vulnerable to a pick-up in that first-term incumbent Shelli VanDenburgh is a Democrat in a marginally Republican district — by a small margin. In a year where one House race may determine control of redistricting, and some of those races may be determined yet again by just hundreds of votes — or less, this race has been targeted by HRCC as a key priority. During 2009, there was quite a bit of effort expended to recruit former military hero Luke Abbott to run for this office, and initially he did announce intentions to run. Early in 2010, word leaked out that his work schedule would preclude him from running and HRCC began to search to find another suitable candidate. 

Here’s where there is a bit of controversy: Instead of working closely with the new GOP chair from Lake County, Kim Krull, HRCC jumped quickly to put out former Mayor Klein’s name and freeze everyone else out. Fran Katz then, with the support of chairman Krull, filed to run as well. Chairman Krull says she will work with the winner to replace Vandenburgh, but that she was not in the loop and didn’t know that Klein was being recruited. There have been words of frustration from both camps over the apparent faux pas, but at this point there’s a primary and everyone’s working to win.

Former Mayor Klein is handicapped by his dramatic loss in the Republican primary in 2007 to the director of the Crown Point Chamber of Commerce (the Republican went on to lose the mayor’s office to Democrats in that year). There have also been persistent issues surrounding an investigation into a loan made to Plasmatronics, an economic development opportunity, while he was mayor. The discussion boards and blog comments have been littered with accusations that to date have not been anything more than that. But all handicaps and gossip mills aside, Klein has name recognition as a former mayor and current director of Habitat for Humanity. He also has the support of potential Speaker Bosma and the finance commitments that may be necessary to knock off an incumbent Democrat. Rumors that this run is merely a stepping stone to another run for mayor are probably whisper campaigns to stir up resentment only. 

Katz appears to bring a wealth of experience in sciences and research, and a lifetime of working to combat arbitrary ceilings and barriers. She does not have the name recognition that Klein holds, but she has the tacit support of the Lake County GOP organization and those in Crown Point who remember Mayor Klein less than fondly.   

I would predict a Klein win, though a smaller margin than expected by any of the internal polling, based on name recognition voting. A big turnout favors Klein; a weak turnout in heavy rain probably gives Katz a chance.  

U.S. House District One: I can keep this short and sweet. Rob Pastore has run the most aggressive campaign, and has captured the most attention among Republican candidates. I would expect him to win the primary. I would also expect that, barring major corruption charges, Pete Visclosky will win re-election. This is the safest seat in Indiana for Democrats.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Out of respect for our guest bloggers, we will not be allowing anonymous comments on their blogs this week. Additionally, the Indiana Chamber does not necessarily share the opinions of our guest bloggers.

Ridin’ the Rails in Da Region

Our next BizVoice magazine (available online February 26) features four Northwest Indiana leaders talking about what it’s going to take for the Region to thrive economically. Extension of the South Shore rail service (a mainstay from South Bend to Chicago and stops inbetween) is part of the discussion, but the following didn’t make the final cut for the story.

Leigh Morris, who is chairman of the Northwest Indiana RDA (that’s Regional Development Authority) and oversees the Indiana Toll Road for the state Department of Transportation, noted the two proposed South Shore extensions are "from Hammond south through Munster and down to Lowell and Crown Point; the other one is an extension from the main line down to Valparaiso in Porter County."

As for the timelines, Morris adds, "Both of these projects are in the process of feasibility evaluations and studies. There are a variety of issues that have to be addressed. The RDA’s position is that both of these routes must be studied sumultaneously. We may do one before the other, but it is not one or the other; it’s both."

With existing rail corridors in place for both, "they could happen fairly expeditiously, within a five-year time frame. One or both could be well underway or even in operation in that time frame. A lot of that depends on being able to assemble the dollars that are involved (more than a billion through regional, state and federal resources).

The public reaction, in Porter County in particular, has been negative as the message about affordability (50% federal match) and economic development opportunities has been overshadowed by that nasty three letter word — tax.

Morris summarizes: "We’ve allowed people to think that we’re going to extend these railroad tracks down here, and there will be a bunch of people getting on the train and going to Chicago. It’s so much more than that. This is the catalyst that will cause major new investment and the creation of new sustainability in our communities."

On the passenger and freight side, Morris offers an interesting tidbit. "We have probably the single most congested piece of rail in the entire national on the Norfolk Southern between Porter, Indiana and Chicago." Stimulus funding is pending to address that.

Read this story and more from Northwest Indiana (and from both K-12 and higher education) in the March-April BizVoice.